David Vail

Associate Professor

Office: COPH 103G   |    Phone: (308) 865-8403   |    Email: vaildd@unk.edu

David Vail


  • Ph.D.  Kansas State University, 2012
  • M.A.  Utah State University, 2006
  • B.A.  Southern Oregon University, 2004

Specialization Areas

  • Environmental and Agricultural History
  • History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • History of Public Health
  • Public History

Curriculum Vitae


David Vail is an associate professor of history at UNK. He grew up in Southern Oregon's Rogue Valley and spent much of his youth exploring the state's mountains and wilderness areas. He is a first-generation student that holds a BA from Southern Oregon University, an MA from Utah State University, and a PhD from Kansas State University. Dr. Vail’s specializations include Environmental and Agricultural History, History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and Public History. He has published articles in academic journals such as Agricultural History, Endeavour (History of Science), Great Plains Quarterly, Great Plains Research, Middle West Review, and Kansas History.

Dr. Vail’s book, Chemical Lands: Pesticides, Aerial Spraying, and Health in North America's Grasslands Since 1945 (University of Alabama Press, 2018) is an environmental-agricultural-technological history of aerial pesticide application, agricultural science and food production in North America’s grasslands.

His second book (co-authored with Debra A. Reid of the Henry Ford Museum), Interpreting Environment at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019), offers a multi-disciplinary approach to research environmental history, document evidence of human influence on land and the environment over time, and tailor that knowledge to new public engagement.

Dr. Vail's next book project, Vulnerable Harvests: Emergency Conservation in the Cold War Great Plains (under advance contract with University of Nebraska Press), considers the region’s agricultural-environmental relationships in the Cold War era. “Vulnerable Harvests” looks at the concepts of ‘risk perception’ and ‘rescue science’ in what he characterizes as agricultural vulnerability environments. The principal goal of the book is to demonstrate how regional actors (human and nonhuman) shaped the land—the farmers who used it, the scientists who studied it, and the ecological relationships that remade it. This project advances our understanding of environmental risk and food security by examining the shifting roles of regional agricultural scientists, government policymakers, and landowners during the Cold War to address the steadily increasing ecological risks to the Great Plains.

Dr. Vail also has a forthcoming, co-edited book with Debra A. Reid and Karen-Beth Scholthof, Interpreting Science at Museums and Historic Sites (Rowman and Littlefield, 2023) that offers a multi-disciplinary approach to researching the history of science, the role of scientific material culture, and its various artifacts of curiosity to promote public engagement in museums and historic sites.

Frequently Taught Courses


  • History of Science and Medicine
  • American History (since 1865) ​
  • American History (before 1865)
  • History of Global Public Health

Dr. David Vail works at a deskGraduate:

  • History of Global Pandemics
  • History of National Parks
  • The Age of Eisenhower
  • Warfare and the Environment in the 20th Century
  • American Environmental History
  • Agricultural History
  • History of Science and Technology
  • History of the Great Depression
  • America Interpreted

Some Recent Thesis Projects

  • David Blakely, “Toward an Environmental History of the First Great Awakening,” Completed Spring 2022
  • Leah Stagg, “‘This is Now Our War!:’ Beaver County, Utah and World War I,” Completed Summer 2021
  • Will Connelly, “Buried in Our Backyard: The Environmental Legacy of American Chemical Weapons Production and Disposal,” Completed Summer 2021
  • Justin Horn, “Where Meteorologists Fear to Tread:” Weather Modification on the Great Plains and the Rainmakers of the 1890s,” Completed Spring 2020.
  • Hannah Freeman, Coveralls or Coverless: Rosie the Riveters and Pin-Up Girls on the World War II Home Front,” Completed Fall 2019.

Dr. David Vail holds up a "Be first" sign supporting first generation studentsFirst-Generation Work

Dr. Vail is also a first-generation faculty at UNK (he was the first in his family to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees). He is a member of the UNK First-Gen Leadership Team and welcomes the chance to help students from the first-gen community. For more information, visit UNK's First Generation page.

Dr. David Vail "throws the lopes" on a bike rideHumanities Adventures

Dr. Vail enjoys connecting his love of history and the humanities with his passion for mountain biking and the Great Plains environment. If you don't see him riding the trails at Kearney's Cottonmill Park, you'll find him working with Humanities Nebraska as a member of the Board of Directors or helping with UNL's Center for Great Plains Studies programming.


Contact Dr. Vail by sending him an e-mail (vaildd@unk.edu) or check out his professional site at davidvail.net.